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Going beyond service level agreements

Smiling woman with a headset in customer service representing Service Level Agreements (SLA) as an agreement between providers and customers.
Going beyond service level agreements


Service Level Agreements may seem complex at first glance, but understanding these agreements can greatly improve customer service management within your organization. Customer satisfaction is crucial for building a strong reputation and achieving business success. By gaining valuable insights into SLAs, you can maintain exceptional service standards, exceed customer expectations, and avoid any unpleasant surprises that could harm your reputation.

"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently."

Warren Buffet
Businessman, Investor, and American Billionaire

Service Level Agreements (SLA) for customer service management

Indeed, the image you project and the relationship you maintain with your customers are among the most crucial elements of your business. Customer satisfaction is key to your success because a satisfied customer is a loyal customer who is likely to recommend your services to others. Conversely, a poor customer experience can quickly tarnish your reputation and harm your business. Service Level Agreements provide a structured and comprehensive approach to ensuring that your services are delivered in line with your target audience’s expectations, thereby strengthening customer trust and loyalty.

The content of this article is inspired by the C2 ITSM webinar titled "Beyond Expectations: Redefining Priority Management with Service Level Agreements" (French only).

Let’s dive together into the fundamental principles of ITIL related to SLAs and explore their practical application. Feel free to watch the webinar to access the complete content, including the basic principles of SLAs in ITIL and detailed best practices for improving your customer service management.

SLA, SLO, and SLI: differences and uses in IT

Service Level Agreements (SLA), Service Level Objectives (SLO), and Service Level Indicators (SLI) form an indispensable and closely related trio for ensuring efficient and measurable IT services. These key elements clearly define expectations regarding performance, quality, and availability. SLAs are formal commitments between service providers and customers, while SLOs are internal service level objectives, and SLIs measure the actual service performance.

By understanding and respecting these objectives, service providers ensure reliable and high-quality delivery while adapting to each organization’s needs to effectively meet user expectations, even in exceptional situations. Together, these three elements form a comprehensive framework to ensure high-quality service delivery.

SLAs are generally used to formalize promises made to customers, while SLOs and SLIs are internal tools for measuring and improving service performance.

However, it is important to note that exceptions can sometimes occur, which may require adjustments to the agreed SLAs. For example, unforeseen circumstances such as server outages or major events may prevent full compliance with SLAs. In such situations, it may be necessary to communicate with customers to negotiate new terms or explain delays or issues encountered.

SLOs and SLIs are often used internally to measure and improve service performance without necessarily being shared with customers. These tools enable IT teams to closely monitor the quality of services provided and take corrective action when needed, ensuring reliable and high-quality service delivery overall.

By using these concepts appropriately and adapting them to each organization’s specific needs, it is possible to ensure that services meet user needs and expectations, even in exceptional situations.

SLAs define expectations between the service provider and the customer regarding performance, quality, and availability of services provided. In reality, these agreements are not just a formal contract but rather a reciprocal commitment to ensure quality services.

ITIL v4 and Service Level Agreements

ITIL, or Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is a widely recognized framework of best practices for IT service management. In the context of service level agreements, ITIL emphasizes the importance of creating a solid partnership between the service provider and the customer.

In the field of ITSM, SLAs help manage user expectations when they make requests or report incidents. This approach aims to establish strong and lasting partnerships based on trust and transparency. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) play a central role in this dynamic by defining expectations, responsibilities, and performance objectives for all parties involved.

ITIL v4 provides guidelines on how to design, manage, and improve IT services to meet customer needs and expectations. As part of these guidelines, ITIL v4 offers practices and processes for effectively developing, implementing, and monitoring SLAs. For example, ITIL v4 provides advice on identifying customer needs, defining appropriate performance indicators, and documenting service commitments in clear and understandable SLAs.

The foundations of a good SLA

In a service level agreement, it is crucial to consider several key elements, including:

  • Service description: A brief summary of the agreement, with the parties involved and the services offered. This section should be clear and concise so that all parties have a common understanding of the services included in the agreement.
  • Service quality: Details on the standard of service to be maintained. It is essential to clearly define quality expectations, specifying performance criteria and service levels to ensure customer satisfaction.
  • Service responsiveness: Information on service response times. It is crucial to establish clear response times and ensure effective communication to promptly address customer requests and proactively resolve issues.
  • Penalties for non-compliance: Specifications on penalties for different levels of agreement violations. It is important to include clauses related to penalties for non-compliance to ensure accountability and commitment from the parties involved.
  • Performance indicators: A list of measurable indicators and how to measure them. Defining relevant performance indicators and setting up monitoring mechanisms like performance dashboards is essential to assess service effectiveness and ensure continuous improvement.
  • Cancellation conditions: The circumstances under which the agreement terms can be canceled. It is necessary to include detailed clauses on agreement cancellation conditions to foresee exceptional situations and ensure transparent and compliant termination.

Best practices for your SLAs

Customization of SLAs

An SLA should be customized based on the specific needs of the service or product and its users. The elements to include will vary depending on the context and the stakeholders' expectations. It is essential to consider the specifics of each service or product to ensure that the service commitments fully meet user needs and expectations. By tailoring the SLA to each situation, optimal service delivery can be ensured, creating a strong partnership based on mutual understanding and stakeholder satisfaction.

Easy to understand language

SLAs should be written in clear and accessible language, avoiding technical jargon for better understanding by all stakeholders. It is essential that the terms and conditions of the agreement are formulated simply and concisely to ensure effective and transparent communication between the service provider and the customer. By opting for a clear and straightforward approach, SLAs become essential collaboration tools, fostering mutual trust in your customer services.

Detailed service description

By clearly specifying the services offered, the expected quality levels, and any potential restrictions, the service provider commits to delivering clear and transparent services, ensuring the success of customer services. An effective service agreement should clearly describe the services promised by the provider to the customer, including their characteristics and limitations. This description must be detailed and precise to ensure that customer expectations are fully understood and met.

Importance of metrics

Metrics are essential for measuring service performance. They should be carefully selected, balancing ease of collection and analysis. Metrics quantify and objectively evaluate compliance with the service commitments defined in the agreement. It is crucial to choose relevant and meaningful performance indicators that truly reflect the quality and efficiency of the services provided.

These metrics must be easily measurable and understandable to enable regular performance monitoring and informed decision-making for continuous service improvement.

By ensuring the relevance, simplicity, and reliability of the metrics used, service providers can guarantee accurate assessment of their performance and increased customer satisfaction.

Indemnification clause

Indemnification clauses are crucial in a service level agreement as they ensure that the provider assumes financial responsibilities related to any service failure. In case of non-compliance with the commitments defined in the SLA, these clauses outline the terms of financial compensation for the affected customer. It is essential that these provisions are clear and fair to ensure appropriate financial responsibility in case of dispute or damage caused by a service failure.

By including solid indemnification clauses, the parties involved can protect themselves against the negative financial consequences associated with any breach of the agreed service commitments.


Transparency is a fundamental pillar in managing SLAs. The clarity and accessibility of SLAs are essential for establishing a lasting business relationship. By making the terms and conditions of the agreement easily available, customers can gain a deep understanding of the provider's commitments and the promised service levels. Transparency also promotes trust and collaboration between the parties, reducing the risk of misunderstandings or disputes. With a clear and detailed SLA, service providers demonstrate their commitment to customer satisfaction and compliance with service commitments, thus fostering a solid and lasting partnership.

Defined penalties

These penalties are essential for ensuring the accountability of the parties involved and maintaining an optimal level of service. By clearly defining the consequences of failing to meet agreed-upon performance standards, SLAs encourage adherence to commitments and the continuous pursuit of improvement. Penalties can take various forms, such as financial discounts, service credits, or specific corrective actions to rectify performance discrepancies.

Joint SLAs

In complex environments like the cloud, joint SLAs between multiple providers are essential for ensuring the seamless compatibility of services and the effective coordination of activities. Collaboration between different providers ensures smooth system integration, optimal resource management, and increased resilience to demand variations.

By working together, providers can commit to adhering to common performance standards, sharing tracking indicators, and establishing transparent communication mechanisms. This collaborative approach enhances service reliability, promotes proactive incident management, and ensures a consistent and seamless user experience.


Pitfalls to avoid in your SLAs

When implementing a Service Level Agreement (SLA), it is important to avoid certain common pitfalls to ensure its effectiveness and relevance.

Not involving relevant stakeholders

Ensure that all relevant stakeholders, including technical teams, business leaders, and customers, are involved in the development of the SLA. Their input is essential to ensure that the SLA meets the needs and expectations of all parties.

Unrealistic or unmeasurable objectives

Avoid setting service level objectives that are not achievable or cannot be measured reliably. Ensure that the objectives are realistic, clear, measurable, and aligned with business needs.

Lack of flexibility

Avoid creating an SLA that is too rigid and does not account for changes in the business environment or evolving customer needs. Ensure that the SLA is flexible and can be adapted based on changes in context.

No performance monitoring and management mechanisms

Ensure that performance monitoring and management mechanisms are included in the SLA to regularly evaluate results against set objectives. This will help identify potential issues and take corrective action promptly.

Unclear responsibilities

Avoid ambiguities regarding the responsibilities of each party concerning the provision and receipt of services. Ensure that responsibilities are clearly defined and accepted by all parties involved.

Ignoring customer expectations

Do not overlook customer expectations when developing the SLA. It is essential to understand the needs and priorities of customers to define relevant and meaningful service level objectives.

Lack of communication and awareness

Ensure proactive communication about the SLA and raise awareness among all relevant stakeholders about its content, objectives, and implications. Good communication promotes better understanding and adherence to the SLA.

By avoiding these common pitfalls, you can increase the chances of success for your Service Level Agreement and contribute to better customer satisfaction and optimal service performance.


Customization, clarity, detailed service descriptions, the importance of metrics, indemnification clauses, transparency, defined penalties, and joint SLAs are all best practices to follow to ensure an effective and satisfying Service Level Agreement for all parties involved. We encourage you to continue exploring and applying these best practices in the implementation of your SLAs to improve service performance and customer satisfaction.